Review: that darn plot by David Belke

Vagabond Theatre of Cornwall

Producer: Katie Burke
Director: Neil Carriere

Cast

Mark Transom: Michael Togneri
Jo: Pat Haaksman
Geoff: Bill Roddy
Russell: Jean Leger
Ivy: Nancy Munro
Lloyd: Scott Beaudoin

Crew:

Assistant Director: Pat Roddy
Stage Manager: Ashley McCool
Assistant Stage Managers: Lloyd and Betty Chaput,
Bob and Myrna Earle, Mike McAnany
Prompter: Micheline Lacasse
Costumes: Chantal Bourdeau
Properties: Marjorie McCoy
Set Design: Neil Carriere, Adrian Black
Set decoration: Adrian Black, Katie Burke
Sound/Lighting: Glenn Cooper
Poster Design: Adrian Black
Advertising/Publicity: Nancy Munro
Programme: Mark Enns, Nancy Munro
Tickets: Garth Wiggle
Box Office: Laurie Manzer
Cast Social: Elaine Kennedy

Production reviewed: October 28, 2006

Michael Togneri is so natural onstage in the part of a chatty non-Irish Canadian Playwright that the part seems to have been written for him. Of course, I could say that for everyone in this cast, and if I hadn’t seen all of them in other parts, I would think they were playing themselves. Such was part of the delight of viewing this production. I do have some reservations, but for the most part, it was a home run for Vagabond Theatre.

The script is a witty comedic gem that should be part of the Canadian professional summer canon. It has funny reparté, superbly presented confrontations and lots of chances for actors to play subtle or over the top. The story concerns a writer who is faced with writing a complete play evernight. He chooses to write about what he knows, and sets the action in a theatre rehearsal hall, where the play to be presented is a poorly written play found in his effects after his death. As in any farce, we have complications within complications as layers of play-within-play take over. I particularly liked Belke’s ruminations — through the character of Transom — on the subject of writing; it all rang very true, and really drew me in to the subject of the play.

That Neil Carriere has not directed before hardly shows in this production: the timing and pace are spot-on, and characterization and plot interpretation all work. It did not hurt that he chose his cast beautifully, and I imagine that they were a delight to work with; however, a lesser director could have screwed this up terribly, because, as in any farce, timing is critical and tone and blocking are key. Neil got all of these right, with a few reservations that I mention below. I hope Vagabond gives Neil more calls; he is obviously at home in the director’s chair.

I liked costumes and hair in this production, particularly Togneri’s orangish shirt with the tail out, Munro’s bun with the pencils, and her skirt revealing a sexy swish of leg, Beaudoin’s tight hair that made him look so untheatrical at the outset, and Haaksman’s slacks outfit that somehow suggested director/lion tamer.

The pace and tone of the production was rapid, as required, hysterical when required, and generally nailed by the experienced cast. I was impressed by the casting. Michael Togneri comes on strong as the reprobate playwright who speaks directly to the audience throughout. Togneri has a physicality that just goes with this part, and his timing in the complex exchanges was superb.

Bill Roddy has a face that serves him well, saying much more than just the lines alone. Saturday’s audience knows enough the watch Roddy and enjoy the banquet he serves. Casting him as an experienced old theatre hand is not a leap at all, as Roddy’s acting chops go ‘way back.

Jean Leger has a comic sensibility, a deadpan delivery and a commanding voice that make his insistance on getting to his nude scene deliciously incongruous. His passionate foreplay with Munro was a comedic highlight.

Nancy Munro, as the sexy stickler for union rules, has a flashy role that she played with panache. I particularly liked the tension that she and Leger evoked, which she developed with such subtlety and intensity. We were able to sense it form body language between the two, and it was quite delightful when distaste turned into passion. Their exit to hotter climes brought on a sustained applause that was well-deserved.

Scott Beaudoin was the character with a secret. He was also the character most manipulated into sudden changes of direction by Togneri’s character. I thought he handled all those nuances with skill. There was one passage, in which Beaudoin was required to insert his comments into spaces in a dialogue going on across the stage. While he managed to fit them in, his pacing was static, as if he were trying to fit them in. I would have thought the director would have paced that passage so it would not be so contrived.

I was not too happy with the placement of the set, particularly in Aultsville Theatre, which has two distinct disadvantages for plays: the stage floor is at eye level for much of the small audience huddled near the front, and the phantom orchestra pit places a huge gulf between the audience and the front of the stage. The set should have been as close to the audience as possible, particularly since the actors very seldom used the crucial five or six feet downstage. When they did occasionally venture into that area in front of the accoustically inhibiting proscenium, their voices projected with much more immediacy. Putting Togneri up on the risers missed the natural position for him right in the house, where he might easily address the audience and the cast more casually from the auditorium floor. The whole placement of the play was forced; it needed more intimacy and more immediacy. If more plays are to attempt presentation there, either the thrust should always be used, or the audience should be seated on the stage with the play — certainly the stage is large enough to accomodate a couple of hundred spectators on risers. Perhaps if it is not possible to place the audience on risers onstage, it is time for Vagabond to look for a more intimate space.

Another of my perpetual complaints with Aultsville Theatre is the illumination which spills from the tech booth, leaving blackouts and other lighting effects impossible. While not as obtrusive as this situation has been in the past, when the crew has had full fluorescents shining into a so-called blackout, the result is still unacceptable. When will this inane issue be addressed? I cannot believe that Aultsville Theatre management continues to allow such a distraction in a house supervised by paid staff.

These issues aside, it is obvious that the audience enjoyed the production and the cast played off the enthusiastic response. It is just too bad Vagabond could not whip up more ticket sales for the other performances. Perhaps a move to putting the audience onstage would inspire larger houses?

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About riverwriter

Poet, playwright, duplicate bridge player, website designer, cottager, husband, father, grandfather, former athlete, carpenter, computer helper for my friends, theatre designer, backstage polymath, retired teacher of highschool English, drama, art, a baritone singer in a barbershop quartet, who knows what else? wordcurrents is on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wordcurrents/ Doug also has a Facebook page, "Incognitio", related to his novels.
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